Reclaiming Health: Innovative program delivers contagious benefits

Reclaiming Health: Innovative program delivers contagious benefits

He had enjoyed just two months of freedom.

A man recently released from prison became a resident of the MADE Transitional House for Flint returning citizens last year, but he began suffering from health issues.

“Immediately when he came to the house we noticed some things about him. He was holding his stomach” in pain, says Leon El-Alamin, founder and executive director of the MADE Institute. “We were constantly getting him rushed to the hospital or calling him an ambulance.”

After a month the man relocated to a healthcare facility, but he died just weeks later, only in his 50’s.

Participants in the MADE Institute’s Health and Wellness program are returning citizens receiving medical attention and support as part of a pilot effort. Photo courtesy of the MADE Institute

“That really bothered me on a personal level,” El-Alamin recalls. “We say ‘returning citizens’ because they’re returning to society. They deserve proper care when they get home.”

The death helped inspire El-Alamin, himself an ex-offender, to launch the MADE Health and Wellness initiative. Building upon the success of the three-month effort, El-Alamin says the MADE Institute plans to expand the its health focus and participation beginning in February.

“We created this pilot program to add to our life skills program,” he says.

“We’ve seen some great results. What we’re doing, through the 10 participants we have in this pilot program, is providing advocacy, consultation, nutrition and health education.”

MADE’s life skills training stresses financial literacy, parenting, anger management, parenting and other guidance. Because some ex-offenders suffer from the same health conditions commonly detected in the larger community, such as diabetes and obesity, El-Alamin says wellness was a logical addition to the organization’s resource efforts.

While prison and jail facilities are required to have medical staff available to inmates, there are limited healthcare resources at detention centers. Debates addressing the penal system’s ability to adequately care for the needs of incarcerated men and women have been among the most significant national discussions around crime and punishment.

The MADE Institute’s innovative health program has transformed the lives of participants, many of whom report feeling “whole” following the completion of the program.

MADE’s initiative includes partnerships with local health organizations and oversight by professionals, including a doctor and nutritionist. The pilot includes seven men and three women who receive regular monitoring, guidance and assistance gaining access to medical resources and medical program coverage.

Two of the participants suffer from multiple sclerosis, El-Alamin says. One returning citizen diagnosed with the illness was released from prison years ago, but has only begun to show health improvement since the pilot was launched, including modest weight gain.

“In his case, that’s a lot of great progress,” adds El-Alamin. “He’s actually the most motivated person in the program. This has really given him new life and rejuvenated him.”

As with most traditional fitness programs, MADE Health and Wellness involves a dietary component, one that stresses natural health supplements as support for medication.

“You can do all the exercise you want,” El-Alamin says, “but if you’re not eating properly it’s not going to do much.”

There are also weekly group exercise sessions held at a local community fitness center. Along with cardiovascular and calisthenics workouts, participants practice yoga and meditation.

“They receive it very well,” El-Alamin adds. “We’ve got a couple of guys who were able to take advantage of the time in prison by working out, and were able to keep themselves going. Instead of just going in pumping weights, they’re starting to see the benefits of the cardio. So it’s a mixture of experiences.”

Incorporating substance abuse and mental health counseling is a main goal for expanding  the initiative, particularly since substance abuse and addiction often factor into crime, says El-Alamin: “The MADE Institute programs are designed to help create trauma-informed and resiliency-focused communities that share a common understanding of the impact of trauma and chronic stress.”

Dwayne and Sonyita Clemons, the husband-wife operators of Total Life Prosperity LLC, provide fitness training and support to MADE.

“They’re wonderful to work with,” says Dwayne Clemons.

He is also a staff member at Hamilton Community Health Network, where he makes referrals for MADE.

Despite stigmas about returning citizens, the experience of training them has enlightened him.

“They’re no different than anybody else,” Clemons says.




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